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Alonso beats Mercedes at opening Singapore session

SINGAPORE (AP) — Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso set the fastest time in the opening practice session for the Singapore Grand Prix, upstaging Mercedes pair Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg on Friday.

Alonso relished the tight confines of the Marina Bay street circuit, setting a time of 1 minute, 49.056 seconds — a tenth of a second ahead of second-place Hamilton, with third-place Rosberg only two hundredths of a second off the pace of his teammate and championship rival.

The Red Bull pair of Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo finished fourth and fifth on the timesheets, with Ricciardo the only realistic threat to the Mercedes drivers in the title race, and forecasting a strong race on a circuit that suits his car.

Alonso’s teammate, Kimi Raikkonen, also put in a competitive showing with seventh place, behind Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne, who performed strongly before his car suffered an electronics failure that briefly saw him block the pit exit.

McLaren’s Jenson Button also had technical difficulties that restricted his running but was eighth fastest, followed by Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat and Force India’s Sergio Perez.

The Williams cars were surprisingly uncompetitive. While this twisty circuit was expected to count against a team that thrived on the flowing Belgian and Italian tracks in the previous two races, it was still surprising to see Felipe Massa down in the 13th and Valtteri Bottas in 15th.

It was the first session run under the new restrictions on pit-car radio transmissions. While the FIA relented on Friday and delayed until 2015 a ban on radio messages about car performance, they did retain a ban on driver coaching — instructions on braking points, gear selection, car set-up at various points on the circuit, etc.

However old habits die hard, and Rosberg and Hamilton were heard asking their team about other drivers’ tires and performance — banned under the new regulations — and received curt replies from the garage.

When Hamilton inquired as to the wear rate on rivals’ tires, the radio message in reply was: “Just carry on with our program and we’ll discuss it in the garage.”

The opening 90-minute session was free of any major incident, with all but McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen having driven the circuit before and learnt to adjust to its bumpy surface, long and technical layout, and close-in barriers.

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